House Withdraws FISA Bill, Sends to Conference Committee

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On May 28, the House of Representatives voted 284-122 to send a bill renewing three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities to a conference committee with the Senate to negotiate a new version of the bill. The move to conference committee came after House Democrats withdrew the bill due to opposition in the House and the threat of a veto from President Trump. Opponents argued the bill did not make significant reforms to warrantless surveillance.

On March 15, three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities expired. That same month, the House passed a FISA reauthorization bill and sent it to the Senate. The Senate then made changes and sent the bill back to the House.

Upon announcing withdrawal of the bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “At the request of the Speaker of the House, I am withdrawing consideration of the FISA Act. The two-thirds of the Republican party that voted for this bill in March have indicated they are going to vote against it now. I am told they are doing so at the request of the President. I believe this to be against the security interest of the United States and the safety of the American people.”

However, opposition to the FISA bill is not strictly partisan. The left wing of the Democratic party also voiced opposition. Notably, Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Democrats should not allow FISA to proceed. Congress should be fighting for people’s rights, not the dangerous expansion of warrantless surveillance, nor exposing people’s private browser histories w/o a warrant. We shouldn’t support [FISA] ever, and we *especially* shouldn’t now.”

The bill would have reauthorized Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the “lone wolf” authority, and the “roving wiretap” authority. Privacy proponents called for inclusions of privacy-protective amendments before any reauthorization.

On May 25, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) joined a coalition of free speech and privacy groups calling for the inclusion of a privacy amendment introduced by Senators Daines and Wyden. The amendment would make clear, in accordance with multiple court rulings, that internet browsing and search history cannot be collected under Section 215, given that it does not require the government to meet a probable cause standard.

However, House leadership announced a new negotiated amendment that was weak on protecting internet activity, causing Senator Wyden to voice his opposition. Following outcry from the right and the left, House leaders withdrew the bill, not allowing a vote on the negotiated amendment.

Since the vote to move to conference committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named the following House Democratic Conferees to the conference committee:

  • Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Committee on the Judiciary
  • Chairman Adam Schiff, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
  • Chair Zoe Lofgren, Senior Member of the Committee on the Judiciary and Chair of Committee on House Administration